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 Author  Topic: PT Boat Factories - Elco, Higgins & Huckins
Alex Johnson

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On eBay there were just listed about 15 excellent large photographs from the Elco plant in Bayonne, NJ showing the original 70' boats under construction. I would love to hear from anyone who worked at or visited any of the factories (Elco, Higgiins and Huckins) during the war. The construction methods of PT Boats were indeed remarkable and I am sure each manufacturer had their own distinct corporate culture. Did anyone see these facilities firsthand?


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Frank J Andruss Sr


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I think the biggest thrill for me was when Elco Marina Manager, John Tenza invited me to view Building 21. This was in early in 1998, and the area was also a Marina, which still used the ELCO NAVAL DIVISION dock side crane. This crane was used during WWII to gently put the PT BOATS into the basin.

My trip to Bayonne, New jersey was a long one, and I thought I would never get there. I can remember stopping several area people to ask for direction to the site. After going down a long roadway, amongst many industrial buildings, and getting lost once, I spotted the very tip of the dock side crane. Boy did my heart start throbbing as I rounded the corner to see in plain view Building 21. The front of the building looked just like the pictures, although the front large letters were faded and replaced with cut out wooden letters that read "ELCO NAVAL DIVISION". The front large doors on rollers were still there although several windows were smashed out. I could just imagine those large doors open to show several PT BOATS under construction. The large concrete dockway in the front had collapsed due to non maintainence, so you had to watch your step. Small docks were in place for the pleasure boats, so I walked out to them, turned around and snapped some pictures of the front of the building. I was so excited to be there in this place that had built so many wonderful wooden boats.

It was time to tour the inside of the large assembly building, which because of lack of maintainence on the owners part, had certainly deteriorated. Water was on the floor, due to the roof leaking in spots, but I made my way thru the building, going up the steps which lead to the upper catwalks over-looking the asembly floor. One of the original winches used to turn the Hulls was still present with a chain attached. I had asked if I could remove it, but electric power was still present in the building, and posed to much of a risk. Many pictures of the assembly floor filled with PT BOATS were taken from this vantage point.

I continued my way across the upper wooden floors, which were structually weak and found myself in the old joiner shop. Here many cabin trunks and other assembled deck parts were made, then lowered to the assembly floor. I could not help but hear and see those workers going about thier tasks in my mind. Across the floor was the old Foremen's Office, housed in one corner of the upper mezzanine. Inside the office, I found original lights, and small bulletin boards which hung from the walls. An old wooden desk sat in the middle, missing it's chair. I noticed as I was in the upper level, all the original green funnel lights that hung from the ceiling. I was given permission to remove a few for my Exhibit, and excitingly cut 2 of them down.

Making my way across the joiner shop, I found myself in what was once the Parts and Tool Room. The bins which once contained hundreds of parts for the boats were still in place. Just as I was about to leave this area, I for some unknow reason, looked up and noticed 6 original Squadron Decals just above the top row of Wooden Bins. A broken window had let the elements in, and 5 of the 6 decals were almost totally wrecked. I could just about make out Squadrons, 9,11,15,19,22. The one decal that had survived was right in the middle and was Ron 28. Having no tools with me, I asked if I could have the decal. Again, I was given permission to remove this Historical piece. Elco Manager John Tenza had no tools but came back with a hack saw blade. Climbing up about 8 feet in the air, with my feet on the old wooden bins, I hacked my way around the decal being as careful as I could. I had cut myself several times removing this decal, but it was well worth it to me to own a piece of ELCO History. This decal is used in all of my Exhibits and is on display in the SPRINGFIELD MUSEUM.

We continued our tour of the old building, making our way into what was once the offices of Henry Sutphen, Preston Sutphen, and Irwin Chase. The offices were beautiful and the walls were covered with Mahoganey. Although nothing remained in these offices, I could not help but picture these men during the War making everyday decisions or having meetings with Naval Brass and other people. Outside these offices was the old switchboard area manned each day by telephone operators handeling several hundred calls per day. The old telephone lines were still in place as well as office lights and built in bookcases. The First Aid office still contained metal and glass shelving, lights, and one worn out sign, which read "Please be seated" Over the years the sign became more worn out, but this sign was spoken for, so I did not obtain it.

We spent a good deal of time in the old building, which I think was close to 3 hours or so. The best part was yet to come. We made our way outside to John's office area, which was housed in one of the original small storage buildings. John had many old Elco Photographs, which we went thru, discussing them and trying to put tag lines on the ones he could not identify. Good things must come to an end, and my visit was just about over. Before I left, I was invited to step into the original Dock Side Crane, for a look see at the original controls in the operators area. As I sat down behind the controls, I went back in time, thinking about what it was like to drop these wonderful PT BOATS into the Basin. John gave me another thrill as he reached into the control box, flipped a sitch and fired up the Crane. I then was shown how to lift, lower, swivel, and move the crane to pick up or put in a boat. It was unreal for me, as I sat there for over one half hour, playing with the controls, looking out the small wooden window, as the operator had done many years ago. Visiting the site was a dream come true for me, and I am so very glad that I did becaus shortly after, vandals buned the building down. What was once a proud million dollar state of the art boat building assembly plant, was reduced to so much metal and junk.

In closing, it sure was a thrill to have visited this place. I can only imagine what it was like during the War to work there or visit there, while the boats were being constructed. Now in it's place are waterside High priced Condo's. A plaque in the center honors this once proud plant that built one of the best wooden boas the world will ever know.........

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